Friday Speak Out!: Everything Counts

Friday, February 04, 2022
by Barbie Beaton

Writing a memoir proposal felt as desirable as gasoline sliding down my throat. For years, dread shadowed every writing session, ramping up doubt’s volume until every eloquent phrase was masterfully nipped and tucked to perfection. Desperation policed every writing session. This book would sell. A proposal simply couldn’t, wouldn’t, capture my artistry.

But, she suggested writing a proposal. She is a recently published author who hit the big times with her memoir, somebody whose reach expands from a small community to a world of literary stars, somebody who taught a group of six memoirists by a large window in a local bookstore, somebody whose suggestions are obligations to emerging writers like myself because the truth is that there is no neglecting, or perfecting, your way to publication.

Every memoir needs a mission, but my story failed to contain a larger purpose. The inevitable proposal in my future was enough to illuminate this oversight, as if I were snapped out of a reverie and into reality. Suddenly, my objective was to expand the story to a world with expectations. A world allured by more resonance, not fewer, words.

My memoir’s mission had entered front and center in my awareness. Maybe it was timing, or maybe it was serendipitous, but two days after the conversation when she told me to write a proposal, a news TV story prompted me to think differently about my story. The rural youth in the state where I grew-up, and from where I now write, focused on tribal reservations where suicide travels through families like a ceaseless game of trauma dominoes.

Watching the show, I recalled my senior year of high school. I lost a friend to suicide. An Arctic blast swept in the same day as his funeral, but my friends and I attended without coats because we were trying to be cool, though really, we were consumed with trying to deny our own traumatic lives.

Everything counts for a writer. Every idea. Every friend. The suicide element was not part of my story, but it could have been. The scenes were written, waiting in my “Extras’ folder.

The following morning, I opened my laptop to read the news about the county where I grew up: “Flathead County is facing a crisis among youth.” The article revealed eight deaths by suicide in the previous sixteen months. The statistics were shocking. Montana remains in a thirty-year holding pattern as one of our nation’s hotspots for suicide deaths.

I existed as a witness.

This was something to write about. My story found significance, the very obstacle I couldn’t navigate while neglecting my proposal. Committing myself to the work, exposing a crisis, I have a story worth telling. To me, that is everything.

* * *

Barbie Beaton

Barbie Beaton is a memoirist and creative nonfiction writer. Her work is published in Bright Bones; Contemporary Montana Writing, and Survivor Lit. She lives in Missoula, Montana. For more information, visit

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Barbie! And congratulations on completing your memoir. :)

It's amazing how writing a book proposal can help us see our book in a new light. We're often caught in the fictive dream of writing and don't think about the marketing part--those questions of why the book is significant and timely, and why we're the person to write it, and what our book is adding to the conversation. Memoirists have it tough! I'm helping a friend with her query letter and memoir book proposal right now. Very similar to you, she found a great statistic after some research for her query and target audience section that added great significance.

On a personal note, I'm also writing about suicide in my memoir (my mother's), and you're so right about it traveling through families. The statistics on suicide and the percentage of suicide among child survivors is flooring. Before I began my memoir, I was in a memoir class and one of our assignments was to write out all our chapter summaries, themes, and audience before we even started writing our chapters! It helps keep that WHY at the top of mind, and I recommend it to anyone who is planning a memoir.

Good luck on your query process!

Andrea said...

Barbie, your writing is beautiful! Anyone would love reading anything you wrote.

It's amazing what happens when you open yourself to new ideas. I recently had a breakthrough like that for my "cat memoir" (still haven't locked down the correct genre). Now I'm energized to get back and finish revising it - as if you can ever finish revising.

Thanks for a wonderful post.

Mrs. Andler said...

Way to go, Barbie. I'm so proud of you....always knew you'd be a writer. Much love, Mrs. Andler

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